AUSTIN-–There is a huge value to helping Texas seniors stay independent and in their own homes, and more than money is at stake. Some claim the Legislature needs to do a better job supporting programs with that focus. One such program is Community Attendant Services, but Trey Berndt, associate state director for advocacy at AARP Texas, said it’s been years since the state increased the wages for those workers. “These are folks that go to your loved one’s, your grandma or grandpa’s home, and help them with meals or getting dressed, making sure they’re safe and sound,” he said. “What they do is really critically important.”
Home care attendants make on average about $8 an hour, Berndt said, which is less than many fast-food or gas-station jobs. The low wages make it tough to attract and retain attendants, he said, and without a wage increase, he predicted it also will become a greater challenge for the nearly 50,000 Texas seniors who rely on the program.
“If you’re constantly turning over attendants and every other week some new person is showing up,” he said, “then that’s disruptive to the senior and tends to result in poorer care, because they don’t understand that person as well.”
The average cost of a nursing-home stay in Texas is more than $3,200 a month, Berndt said. The average cost of in-home care is about one-fourth of that, much of which is picked up by the federal government. “That little bit of care is enough to make them stay at home and around their friends and family and loved ones, and keep going to their church and all of that stuff,” he said. “So, the programs are a great deal for the state – not that there’s anything wrong with nursing home care if that’s what you need, but it’s just not the same as being at home.”
Increasing wages for the in-home attendants, Berndt said, is one of those opportunities when good public policy can align with good fiscal policy.